2011 ‘most challenging on recent record’ in Burgundy

Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow has described the 2011 vintage in Burgundy as “the most challenging year on recent record”.

Speaking to the drinks business at the trade tasting of the 2011 vintage of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Brett-Smith said: “The word gets bandied about, but 2011 was a rollercoaster – Mother Nature threw everything at us: rain, hails, storms, but there were some wonderful bits in between.

“It was a very important year to be lucky and Aubert de Villaine had luck on his side and literally plucked victory from defeat as the region enjoyed glorious sunshine in August. We feared the worst, but nature changed its mind at the last minute,” he added.

Yields were down 30% at DRC in 2011, mirroring the situation in 2010, though in 2012 de Villaine lost a staggering 60% of his crop.

Despite the diminished yield, Brett-Smith described the character of the 2011 vintage of DRC as “utterly beautiful”.

“While 2011 was not a great vintage in Burgundy, the DRC wines are beautiful. They have a lovely purity and freshness about them and really express the terroir. Their defining character is their silkiness. They will drink well early but will also make great old bones,” he told db.

“As merchants, we love a difficult vintage because it means we’ve got a role to play and can be genuinely useful,” he added.

Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, compared the 2011 vintage to 2009.

“They remind me of them not in the sense that they are as ripe and filled with sunshine but in their tenderness and in the style of their tannins,” he said.

In terms of the wines in his range, de Villaine was loathe to choose a standout, though did admit that Romanée-Conti shone above the others for its “length, texture and purity.”

“I don’t like to talk about good and bad vintages – there are easy and difficult vintages and 2011 was definitely a difficult vintage as we were faced with a succession of problems, from mildew to burnt berries.

“But with the lower yield, the berries that we did pick had a good level of maturity and good quality tannins. The wines are not as soft as 2009 but they have a purity that you rarely see,” de Villaine told db.

“Rather than giving everything upfront like the 2009s, these are wines that require effort on the part of the drinker to appreciate,” he added.

Brett-Smith admitted that the fact that DRC yields have been down since 2010 has affected the price of the wines.

“Aubert and I have a conversation every year about pricing and our prices have been kept wonderfully regular in recent years – it’s the market that is pushing them up,” he said.

In this regard, de Villaine spoke of his plight to try and keep DRC away from speculators.

“There are people who want to buy DRC in order to sell it on and make a profit from it.

“We try our best to tightly control our distribution so this doesn’t happen as we want to sell to drinkers and keep prices at a reasonable enough level to allow those who have the means to still be able to buy and enjoy the wines – it’s mostly working at the moment,” he said.

Despite talk of a dwindling interest in the world’s finest wines in Asia, Brett-Smith believes Bordeaux has suffered more than Burgundy from a cut in spending.

“I think the fallout in Asia is temporary, and Bordeaux has been hit the hardest by the kickback. The reception of Burgundy in China has been overwhelmingly positive because the region has an authentic story to tell,” he said.

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